Big C, Part Four: Pitched by the lip

The great thing about cutting your teeth with Austin’s Violet Crown Sports Association in the early 1980’s was the way you learned how to ride your bike while profoundly high. Although I never inhaled, every Sunday ride featured numerous dirt road detours. Each time a detour passed through a low water crossing — and oddly, they all did — someone would shout “Low water crossing!” and the whole crew would come skidding to a halt.

Out would come the sacred hemp, and these hardened bike racers would puff and suck hard enough to send smoke signals to Oklahoma. It was these rides that made me wonder why pot was considered a performance enhancing drug, because I noted that once everyone was completely high, they would leap on their bikes and ride with a speed and intensity that was, uh, mind blowing. Incredible feats of speed, power, jumping, sprinting, and crazy mad high-speed bike skills were displayed such as I’d never seen before or since.

Problem was that it was pot, which meant the amazing displays only lasted about three minutes and sometimes less, after which the pace would crater down to thirteen mph, lazy conversations would ensue, much commentary would be had on the beauty and unusual shapes of the clouds, and everyone would begin to think exclusively about pizza. Want to ride the Tour on ganja? Really? Go for it, dude.

A mind is a terrible thing to waste, but it sure is fun

Sometimes we would take so many dirt roads that the seemingly inexhaustible supply of drugs would run out, which meant that instead of stopping at each low water crossing we would blast through them. They were frequently covered with water, and when roads were paved it could get tricky because the entire pavement was underwater and the edges were often covered with mud and moss and algae.

It only took a couple of falls to learn that generally the safest line through a low water crossing was the center because that’s where the water was moving fastest and the chance of hitting snot-slick mud or moss was lowest.

We were now more than an hour into the MMX Deathday Celebration. It had started horribly enough.

“Just up here there’s a climb,” MMX had said.

“Oh yeah?” I was riding next to him on the front to show everybody that I wasn’t afraid to go up where the wind was strong and the pace was bitter (it was later pointed out that I was only there for five minutes and it was the beginning of the ride when we were mostly stopped at stop lights).

“Yeah. About half the field will get dropped and quit here.”

I waited for him to say, “Except you, of course.” But he didn’t.

“So, uh, what about me?”

He stared stonily ahead.

The problem with MMX was that for all his soft and fuzzy qualities, exaggeration wasn’t one of them. To the contrary, whenever he spoke he considered his words for their precision before uttering them. The down side of this exactitude was that when he said something would be “hard” or “everyone would quit” or “many would die,” it always turned out that way. But the good side was that, well, I suppose there wasn’t a good side.

We hit the first climb and everyone except Stinger, MMX, and Olivery Stanle got shelled. I somehow chased back on even as the donuts and McBreakfast were chasing up my esophagus. I got kicked out the back on the next roller and flailed by myself for a few minutes until I reached the regroup spot.

The next thing I knew, MMX, David, and I were barreling down a narrow country lane a hundred yards or so ahead of the lynch mob. The road went through a low water crossing. MMX took the middle line at full speed, as did David and I.

Surfer Dan, back in the chase mob, had not spent enough of his early life stoned on a bicycle going full gas through muddy water crossings while choking on donuts, so he took the line along the right edge. A few pedal strokes in, he noticed that he was in the air, moving sideways, with the pavement coming up towards his face at a rather dramatic pace.

Before conking his noggin on the ground he whacked his neighbor’s thigh with his head. Filled as it was with dense and clever and high-quality brain matter, the weight of his skull thumped the neighbor’s leg with such viciousness that it knocked the neighbor’s bike out from under him as surely as a stick in the spokes.

Surfer Dan, dropping into the slime at a ridiculous angle as he set up for the bottom turn, slashed hard to the left and came up with a perfect drop wallet Larry layback. Just as his rear derailleur started to purl, he yanked on the left rail and stuck his head into the cascading wall of mud, getting totally covered for several full seconds. Unfortunately, he failed to make the full barrel as the door closed on his head, jacking his fork up under the mud lip and sending him sprawling into the foam.

Neighbor, who he’d dropped in on, tried valiantly to pigdog the vertical face but ended up, like Surfer Dan, flat on his ass and getting dragged over the reef.

We stopped to count the dead and wounded. Two riders down, one trashed wheel and one mortally wounded derailleur hanger.

Dan had landed on his hip and slid thirty feet through the slime, so naturally he was laughing. “That was fun! I toldja this was gonna be a fun ride!”

“You are clinically insane,” I advised.

Neighbor’s wheel had lost four spokes and was more out of true than a speech on the floor of the Senate. “Are you gonna continue?” MMX asked, and it wasn’t a question.

“Sure,” said Neighbor. “Worst thing that could happen is the wheel could explode and kill me.”

Everyone agreed this was a minor issue and unworthy of further discussion. “What’s the rest of the route?” asked Neighbor.

“The usual route, plus three miles of sand and five miles of off-road rock garden mud climb plus sandy wall of death up vertical face,” MMX advised him. “You’ll be fine. Or not.”

As we applied pressure to Surfer Dan’s severed iliac artery and stanched the blood with a strip of tube, a boot, and a Clif bar wrapper, the gang of jagged-toothed barracudas remounted. Now that hardly anyone was left but the certifiable crazies, the ride could begin in earnest.

24 thoughts on “Big C, Part Four: Pitched by the lip”

  1. Such a better read than my online paper and morning coffee. Inspiring! Thanks again WM!

  2. Years ago when I lived and trained full-time in Houston this guy “Fast Freddy” called me and asked if I’d be his training partner. I was the only guy who’d ride the kind of miles he’d be doing. He was a funny guy and it turned into a good thing for me since I was pretty much doing 500 miles a week alone except weekends. Fast Freddy was on the US Olympic Team in ’76 Montreal and ’80 Moscow (boycott). We rode together almost everyday.

    One week a gaggle of Freddy’s pals from Santa Cruz/Monterrey came to Houston for a visit and do some fast miles. The first ride with them was the Saturday ride most popular in Houston “Kirkwood Ride” to Magnolia and back. Freddy and me would go off on our own at Magnolia for 100-130 and his pals joined us.

    What happened next I’ll never forget as long as I live. We’re riding along just outside Magnolia in the country side and one of the guys whispers to Freddy “let’s burn man”. Now *I’m fuckin’ *ready to burn, let’s go baby. I gripped my bars and I wasn’t gonna be taken by surprise when he jumped out of the saddle off the back. I pulled my double toe straps tight as I could stand em.

    Freddy made a gesture to pull over about the same time my whole body had become completely tight and wound up like a cheetah about to bolt for it’s prey. We slowly went into this vacant Cul-de-sac. They all pulled out one of those containers like you’d keep a kids retainer or false teeth in, opened them and pulled out joints… and they lit up. Puff, puff, puff and they got wasted. It wasn’t like a VC (Violet Crown) ride jumping off and on the bike at the start of the ride for a quick puff they took their time.

    They were around Houston for a couple weeks and every ride they’d do the same thing. I thought only Violet Crown were the stoners. We used to make fun of those VC guys for smoking put. Not all of them did but they are the only Austin bike club still around from the ’80’s and I admire them for that. Real solid bunch.

    I used to train with one of them and he became my best friend for a while. His name is Seth. Watch out for him on those City Limit sprints.

    1. DpCandND..FBBC

      Markham was a grade A stud….heart of gold…demeanor of a stud bull in the throes of heat….and he always made everyone else hurt.

  3. Edit: It’s “pearled” not “purled”. Derived from “diving for pearls”.

    Thanks for the beer today.

    1. That was fun!

      I’m not convinced about the etymology. When I started surfing in 1979 I usually saw it spelled “purl,” although currently it seems to be spelled “pearl.” I thought that the word originated from the way the water “purls” on the rails and nose of the board just before it submerges. Purling, of course, is a decorative knitting technique that mimics pearls on the edge of the item being knitted. The word “purl” as it relates to water flowing over something and creating “pearls” is derived from the knitting technique.

      The earliest reference I could find to “pearl” in surfing was in a dictionary of American slang, which claimed that it’s an Australian term dating from 1961 and that it does in fact relate to “diving for pearls.” However, this reference is apocryphal. After perusing a few surfing forums I concluded that the vast majority of surfers are completely illiterate and neither know nor care how the word came about, being primarily concerned with not digging in the nose of their board and making the wave rather than disputing etymology on the Internet.

      They have a point.

      In your favor, the “diving for pearls” connotation is the one that most people use now, and perhaps it does make a tad more sense that surfers would use slang invoking pearl diving than they would a term that involves knitting, were it not for the purl-and-moving-water connection. So I’m willing to admit that while I may be wrong, I will decline to edit until I’ve got something more than a few Internet forums to divest me of the notion that purling as it relates to water in a stream makes more sense than pearl diving.

    2. Checked with a literate surfer buddy who looked at me like I was crazy when I mentioned “pearled” v. “purled.”

      Note to self: Accept edits when suggested by beerswilling, pier-jumping readers whose initials are DB.

  4. Here in CenTex we referred to ’em and still do as Bridge Breaks. The Sunday Freewheeling Ride (RIP) tended to end up in either Lockhart or Maxwell both of which had dirts and bridges aplenty. And bridges weren’t the only stops like the time when WM ground looped it in a particularly nasty bend and I just happen to have an individual serving of Good Grease to help stem the red, red vino on tap. He didn’t inhale but he was certainly down wind. Seven layers of grime was considered a good session. Afterwards it was Conan’s Pizza delivery to the Mystery Rider’s domicile for some ride wreckollections and wraceling (Bill Mercer or Phil Ligget) watching. They were the best of rides, they were the worst of rides…

  5. Being a VC rider and (currently land-locked) surfer, I enjoyed the tale. I’ve heard some wild stories about some of those rides.

  6. You couldn’t use a clif bar wrapper for triage back then unless you also had a time machine.

    1. Don’t ever fricking leave for a ride without a tire lever, canister, boot, spare tube, and a time machine. Ever.

      1. …and Zabel’s fired masseuse is available on short notice these days. Never leave for a ride without Edgar. (using the time machine here to make reference to a future WM column…how clever is THAT??)

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